HC Deb 02 February 1854 vol 130 cc215-9

The House baying resolved itself into Committee,

THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHE- QUER

said: I rise, Sir, to move for leave to bring in a Bill relative to matters of no inconsiderable importance, though they are matters with respect to which it will not be necessary that I should trouble the House for any considerable length of time, because the duty I have to discharge is one of a preliminary character, and the subjeet is one that derives its chief interest from its connexion with other subjects not appearing on the face of the Motion on the paper. It will be in the recollection of the House that on various occasions there have been discussions in this House with respect to that portion of our system of public expenditure and accounts in which it has been the practice both to defray the expenses of collecting the revenue out of receipts without the supervision and control of Parliament, and likewise to defray from those receipts, and before they have come into the Exchequer, a considerable variety of other charges. In conformity with what I think was the general feeling of the House, Her Majesty's Government intimated last year that they would be disposed to consider a plan whereby the estimates of the expenses of collecting the revenue might be submitted to this House along with the other estimates for the necessary service of the country. That pledge I hope to be able fully to redeem during the present Session, as regards the three great departments of the State—the "three great departments" I call them in regard to this description of expenditure—the Board of Inland Revenue, the Customs department, and the Post-office department. The estimates connected with those services are in a forward state, and they will be submitted to the House, I trust, on an early day. But it is obvious that, in proceeding to frame estimates of that kind it was necessary to take cognisance of all those other charges which it has been the practice to pay out of the revenue of the country previous to its being handed over to the Exchequer, and to dispose of them as might seem best. There is a great variety of those charges, including numerous pensions charged by Royal grant or Act of Parliament upon those revenues. Of those pensions I shall, I hope, chiefly dispose by the close of the month by paying them up; but till that is done, it will be necessary to make provisions for their being discharged in a proper manner. There is no reason in the world why they should be made the subject of annual votes of the House. They appeared to belong to that class of charges which ought at once to be placed upon the Consolidated Fund. There are others which ought also to be placed on the Consolidated Fund—for example, the charges for the salaries of the Judges in Scotland. I do not say of the entire judicial establishment of Scotland, because I am of opinion that, except the salaries of the Judges, it would be much better that we should place the rest of that expenditure upon the estimates along with the corresponding charges for England and Ireland. I do not intend to go through a list of these charges, which are numerous, but only to point out the principle on which we shall proceed. The occasion of framing estimates for the expenses of collecting the revenue, raises the whole question of the better classification of the charges as between two branches of expenditure—the Consolidated Fund service upon the one hand, and the Supply service upon the other. I shall propose to place on the Consolidated Fund, or to retain on it, as the case may be, those particular charges for which it appears that that is a proper mode of provision; and, with respect to all other charges, I shall propose to place them upon the annual estimates. When that shall be done, I trust that great progress will have been made towards establishing a perfectly clear, comprehensive, and accurate system of public accounts. I am very far from saying that that is all that is to be done. There are some other changes that must follow; but much has already been effected by the labours of public men and of this House in former years, and I am quite satisfied that what remains to be done I shall be able to complete without much difficulty or much delay. Having, then, explained my intention, and since it is necessary, with the permission of the Committee, to bring in a Bill in which will be an enumeration indicating the manner in which I propose to deal with these subjects separately, I have no occasion to delay the Committee longs at this time. I am quite satisfied that the principle of the measure will have the approval of the House. Even if I were not going to propose to the Committee to vote by estimate the expense of collecting the revenue, this measure would still be reasonable and proper. It is occasioned by our contemplating other measures, but it stands perfectly clear upon its own grounds as a simplification of the public accounts, and as bringing the mode in which our charges are defrayed out of the revenue more in harmony with the principle which should govern our finances. I beg to move the Committee for leave to bring in a Bill to alter the mode of providing for certain expenses now charged upon certain branches of the Public and Hereditary Revenues, and upon the Consolidated Fund.

MR. HUME

said, that nothing could give him greater satisfaction than the step which the Government now proposed to take, for it was one of the things which he had been aiming at for years. In speaking to individuals on this subject, they had often answered him that the accounts were so complex that they could not understand them; but when the proposed alteratinos were carried into effect, they would be afforded the means of doing so. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would also lay on the table a schedule that would show the times of the proposed changes, the departments to which they were now charged, and those to which it was intended they should be changed. This would enable Members to see at once the class of charges, when changed, and where they were placed. This he thought would not be attended with any difficulty, and, as it must form a part of the Bill, it might as well come as a separate schedule.

MR. W. WILLIAMS

said, he also begged to thank the right hon. Gentleman for having adopted this most important change in the mode of conducting the finances of this country. The subject of paying the whole of the revenue into the Exchequer, without subjecting it to deductions for various purposes, had been brought under the notice of successive Governments for years past, and especially under the notice of successive Chancellors of the Exchequer, but very little attention had been paid to it. He must, however, except the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), and do him the credit to say, that when he held the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the subject being mentioned, he at once said, that if he continued in office for a sufficient length of time the whole of the revenue should be paid into the Exchequer; but certainly the merit of having carried this great financial improvement into effect was due to the right hon. Gentleman who now filled that office. This change would be a most important circumstance in the history it of the finance of the country, though it could but be matter for astonishment that the House of Commons had so long abandoned one of its most important duties. It had allowed 6,000,000l. or 7,000,000l. to be expended without having the slightest control over it, or even a knowledge as to whether the expenditure was right or wrong, just or unjust. He was, therefore, most thankful to the right hon. Gentleman for having adopted this most important change, which he was sure in any future history of the country would be spoken of as highly to his credit.

MR. DISRAELI

said, he also approved of the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, and he believed that he should have the pleasure of supporting it when the Bill was brought before the House. It attempted, in fact, to carry out, and he had no doubt efficiently, suggestions and propositions that had been made by the late Government, and which, had they continued in office, it would have been their duty to have carried out. He fully agreed in the opinion that it would prove of great advantage to the country.

Resolved▀× That the Chairman be directed to move the House, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to alter the mode of providing for certain expenses now charged upon certain branches of the Public and Hereditary Revenues, and upon the Consolidated Fund.

Resolution reported:—Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Bouverie, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mr. Wilson.